• May 27, 2024

Leader of the pack

 Leader of the pack

An astonishing share of cigarette packages are printed and converted on the machines of a single supplier.

By George Gay

If I were asked to list suppliers of tobacco machinery, Bobst would not be one of them. And in a way, this is odd because, as Alfred Ulli, Bobst’s marketing and sales director, told me during a telephone interview in August, if you pull a cigarette from a pack, there is an 80 percent chance that the blank from which the pack was formed was printed and converted on a Bobst machine. Most of Bobst’s Lemanic tobacco industry-focused machinery is used for producing hinge-lid blanks, but some of its other machinery is used for producing other types of tobacco packaging along with printed tipping papers, inner frames and inner liners.

It is also the case that roughly 80 percent of the Bobst Lemanic presses used by printers and converters for producing tobacco industry materials is used only for such purposes while just 20 percent is also used for producing materials for packing the products of other industries.

Clearly, while Bobst might not be a tobacco industry machinery supplier in the strictest sense, it is a vital contributor to the industry’s supply chain. For all sorts of reasons, tobacco products may not be sold without first packing them.

Of course, there are several reasons why Bobst’s printing and converting machinery cannot be seen to fit within the tobacco industry fold, not the least of which is scale. Such machinery is at least 40 meters in length, for instance. Bobst’s Lemanic lines usually run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the users invariably employ Bobst trained operators and maintenance crews to keep them running efficiently.

This focus on training is unsurprising. Bobst offers a complete range of dedicated tobacco industry machinery, including, basically, two models of presses: a high-productivity machine for high-volume brands such as Marlboro and what it calls a medium-productivity machine with production levels about half those of the bigger machine. But each machine is custom-made to the user’s specifications; if you could see 100 machines, you would be looking at 100 different configurations.

Asked what proportion of a machinery supplier’s business with the printing and converting industry would be accounted for by parts and services, Ulli estimated a maximum of one-third. In part, this would be because the printing and converting industry has a parallel supply chain for what it refers to as “tooling.” Tooling parts, such as printing cylinders and cutting forms, tends to be the preserve of local suppliers not press suppliers such as Bobst.

Nevertheless, Bobst provides parts and services in a number of ways, one of which is a simple reactive service that can employ remote diagnostics and that delivers parts and, if needed, technicians when required. But in order to prevent nonscheduled production stops, Bobst offers preventative maintenance programs: half yearly or yearly inspections during which its technicians identify worn parts so they can be replaced before they fail. And yes, it will provide tooling parts as required for each job as well.

On the other hand, Bobst offers training and instruction for machinery users’ own maintenance personnel so they can carry out regular and preventive maintenance, and it provides training for press operators and managers.

As part of its maintenance scheme, Bobst runs an obsolescence program in which it regularly informs customers about parts that are no longer available on the market and offers replacements with an equivalent performance. These are mostly electric or electronic parts that Bobst does not make itself.

Finally, it offers an upgrade program under which it will provide machine adaptations in line with new requirements, depending on the age of the machine and the changes required. Ulli gave as an interesting example the changes that had to be made to some machinery so that it could produce the new types of packaging required by the arrival of heat-not-burn products to the market.

So what does the future hold for tobacco packaging requirements? Ulli made no bones about the fact that the years of volume growth, stretching from the 1970s to the early years of the new millennium, are over. Cigarette consumption simply isn’t growing. “At the same time, tobacco consumption is changing with ever new and more and more sophisticated packaging as well as new types of products,” he said. “What is new—and this is just the beginning—is that the brand owners are forced by consumers to come out with new products. There is a new market approach, which will require new designs, new boxes and all with faster time-to-market requirements. The tobacco industry will continue to develop, and Bobst will remain a supplier of choice.”